Review: The Madness of George III (Chicago Shakespeare)

  
  

The real King Lear

  
  

King George III (Harry Groener) and the royal family greet their subjects in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren.

  
Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents
   
The Madness of George III
   
Written by Alan Bennett
Directed by Penny Metropulos
at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier (map)
thru June 12  |  tickets: $44-$75  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Talk about life imitating art. Like the fictional King Lear of Shakespeare’s harshest imagination, in the late 18th century King George III of the troubled House of Hanover descended into madness, then briefly emerged from it as he realized that a king is mortal and that others have suffered as much as he. He too had vicious offspring: two sons – the fat and foolish Prince of Wales, later George IV, and the foppish Duke of York – were every bit as ungrateful as Goneril and Regan (and he had no Cordelia to redeem the curse). George was temporarily “cured” by a tough-love regimen: A monarch who had never been contradicted in his life was restrained by strait-jackets and strapped to a chair like a thief in a pillory. If not worse, the treatment was as vicious as the malady.

Harry Groener as the ailing King George III and Ora Jones as his devoted Queen Charlotte in Alan Bennett's The Madness of George III. Photo by Peter Bosy.If Lear’s story is tragic, George’s is pathetic, so great is the gulf between his real illness (porphiria, a medical and not a mental degenerative disease) and the neo-medieval physicians who think the solution is just a question of bloodletting, poultices, and a daily inspection of the chamberpot. It’s too easy to say that George was unhinged by the ingratitude of his American subjects in daring to revolt—or that his peace of mind was subverted by parliamentary plots hatched by his enemies the Whigs (under the unscrupulous Charles Fox). (The government’s Tories, under William Pitt, were not above exploiting the addlepated king as he forfeited control over almost all his functions and functionaries.) His was a classic case of hubris: The body’s conditional state betrayed the monarch’s absolute power.

Alan Bennett’s much-praised 1991 dramatization of this unpleasantness (made into Nicholas Hytner’s superb 1994 film with Nigel Hawthorne as the humbled king) recalls Thomas Hogarth’s most vicious caricatures: It conjures up a dysfunctional dynasty as fraught with friction as any family and a political circus in which Whigs and Tories behave just as badly as our bad boys do in 2011, not 1785.

Penny Metropulos’ all-engrossing staging is a marvel of perpetual motion. Its energy is coiled and concentrated in Tony-nominee Harry Groener’s piledriving performance in the dual title role (the madness as much as the king). In this awesome fall from grace we watch the symbol of the then-world’s greatest empire lose authority as he does his bowels, brain and locomotion. The well-named Groener makes us feel his pain in each particular (and Bennett is nothing if not graphic in his depiction of a body breaking down).

The king’s sole help comes from Ora Jones’ magnificent Queen Charlotte, George’s fearlessly loyal, unjustly neglected wife, his faithful equerries (Kevin Gudahl and Erik Hellman), and his principled and frustrated prime minister (Nathan Hosner). All do legion work above and beyond every theatrical expectation.

     
King George III (Harry Groener) celebrates his recovery with his devoted Queen Charlotte (Ora Jones) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren. King George III (Harry Groener, center) handles government affairs with Prime Minister William Pitt (Nathan Hosner, far left) as Fortnum (Mark D. Hines) awaits orders, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren.
King George III (Harry Groener) embraces his straitjacket as he struggles to regain control of his mind in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren. Queen Charlotte (Ora Jones) warns her ailing husband, King George III (Harry Groener), of his government's impending plan to revoke his political powers, as Captain Fitzroy (Kevin Gudahl, center) and Captain Greville (Erik Hellman, left) look on, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren.

As devious as the disease that wracks the king, Richard Baird plays his heir with odious opportunism, matched by Alex Weisman as his corrupt and corpulent younger brother. David Lively’s Lord Chancellor is amusingly caught in the crossfire between both factions, while the four doctors (Brad Armacost, Patrick Clear, William Dick and James Newcomb) display a cornucopia of ignorance that Moliere would envy.

The near-three hours fly by as pell-mell conflicts ebb and seethe under William Bloodgood’s immense Palladian portico. Its most telling moment is when a recovering George experiences the only good treatment he received: He plays a dying King Lear, suddenly realizing that another man wrote about and an imaginary one felt his plight. That, of course, was to know how powerless you are when fate toys with you and your own body turns on you worse than any enemies could imagine. You feel like a voyeur as you watch this scatological and scandalous story unfold, but you can’t take your eyes away for an instant.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Suspecting a plot to dethrone him, King George III (Harry Groener) attacks his son, the Prince of Wales (Richard Baird), attended by Dr. Richard Warren (Patrick Clear, left), as Queen Charlotte (Ora Jones, right) rushes to quell him and the Duke of York (Alex Weisman) tumbles to escape the fray, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's The Madness of George III. Photo by Liz Lauren.

All photos by Liz Lauren and Peter Bosy.

     

 

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REVIEW: A Christmas Carol (Drury Lane Children’s Theatre)

   
  

A heart-warming tale of transformation and joy

  
 

A CHRISTMAS CAROL- William Dick as Scrooge

   
Drury Lane Children’s Theatre presents
   
A Christmas Carol
       
Written by Charles Dickens
Directed by
Scott Calcagno
at
Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook (map)
through Dec 18  |  tickets: $12  |   more info

Reviewed by Allegra Gallian

The Christmas season is once again upon us, and with it is brought one of the most beloved holiday stories, A Christmas Carol, once again brought to life by Drury Lane Theatre. Based on the novel by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol tells the heartwarming transformational story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a bitter old man as greedy and he is unhappy, who’s offered one last chance on Christmas Eve to discover the true meaning of Christmas before he is forever fated to doom and despair.

The set focuses in on a large wooden door center stage, complete with a large, lion-head knocker. Flanking the stage is distressed wood walls and throughout the performance set pieces are brought on and off stage in quick changes to create Scrooge’s counting house, his home, the Crachet’s and other various places around town. Scene changes are done quickly and efficiently, never slowing down the performance.

imageTravelling back to the London of 1843, A Christmas Carol opens with the townspeople milling about, singing Christmas carols and enjoying each other’s company. The stage instantly comes to life with action and a charming sense of the season. That is, until Scrooge makes his entrance scowling and “bah humbug-ing” his way through the now-silenced crowd. Scrooge, played by William Dick, is a clear distinction of the bitter old man, and Dick embodies him fully, while adding a bit of jolliness to the character. Dick could have taken a bit meaner turn with Scrooge in the beginning, making the transformation more prevalent at the end, but Dick does a fine job at portraying the old Miser.

The counter to Scrooge is Bob Crachit (Andrew Weir), wonderfully full of merriment and Christmas cheer. With an understanding of how poor Crachet and his family are, Weir reaches deep down and creates a lovely sense of hope and love for not just himself but the entire Crachit family (and Scrooge as well!).

As Scrooge settles into his lonesome Christmas Eve, he is joined by the spirit of his former partner, Jacob Marley (Christian Gray), now forced to walk the earth bearing the chains he created in life. A chilling portrayal of what Scrooge is to become should be not change his ways, Gray delivers a solid performance and is spot on with the spookiness of his character.

The ghost of Christmas Past (Cathy Lord) is regal and elegant as she takes Scrooge on a journey of his Christmas memories. She’s comforting with a protective demeanor. Christmas Present (Don Forston) is as jovial as one would hope as he shows Scrooge how his young co-worker and nephew celebrate, while Christmas Future (Andrew Redlawsk), grim and terrifying in his ways, shows Scrooge just what is to become of him and those in his life.

The lighting effects help to bring create a sense of mystery and wonder, especially surrounding the three spirits. The use of strobe lighting, colored spotlights and other lighting effects bring the fantasy to life and really aid in telling the story.

As Scrooge awakens on Christmas morning, it’s heart-warming to see the change come over him and the happiness he’s found. William Dick does a fantastic job of spreading that newly-acquired Christmas spirit around the theatre. And as Tiny Tim (Nicky Amato/Shane Franz) cries out, “God bless us, everyone” it’s clear that everyone both on and off stage is feeling a little merrier than when the play began.

   
  
Rating: ★★★½
   
   

A Christmas Carol plays at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oak Brook, Ill., through December 18. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased by calling the box office at 630-530-0111.  Families are also offered the special opportunity to have breakfast or dinner with Santa Claus on select performance dates, with a festive buffet-style menu complete with seasonal favorites (more info after the fold). This all-time favorite play with music is an exhilarating opportunity to introduce children to the arts. 

        
       

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